NYTimes, College Towns, and Our Rural Economy

Can Rural University Towns Save Our Rural Economy?

Probably not. Colleges and universities have enough problems these days.

Still, we should talk about the role higher education plays in our national conversation about the growing divide between rural and urban areas. That’s what I thought as I read Eduardo Porter’s excellent analysis in the NYTimes this weekend on The Hard Truths of Trying to ‘Save’ the Rural Economy.

The data Porter cites for rural America is disturbing. Rural America is older, less productive, less diverse, less healthy, less employed, less educated, and poorer than urban America. Over the past decade, counties with fewer than 100,000 residents have seen businesses flee, while places of a million or more have attracted large numbers of employers.

What the NYTimes doesn’t mention is that rural areas are home to a disproportionate number colleges and universities.

Last year The Atlantic asked Could Small Town Harvards Revive Rural Economies? This article listed the benefits of colleges and universities for rural areas: a) generating ideas, technologies, and skilled workers that can lead to new businesses, and b) attracting educated faculty and staff who contribute to the economy. local.

An immediate benefit to rural areas would be a public commitment to dedicate resources to the more than 1,100 community colleges scattered across the United States. Many community colleges are located in rural areas.

Public policies that promote post-secondary education will strengthen rural areas. Increased access to low-cost loans and scholarships will encourage rural development, as many schools are located in rural university towns.

What might also help with our growing division between rural and urban areas is if people in higher education talked about the benefits of living in a small college town. Journalists who write about the benefits of city living almost always live and work in cities.

A few years ago, when our kids went to college, my wife and I talked about leaving our own small, rural college town to study in a bigger city. What keeps us in our small university town is the quality of life.

Housing prices in our city don’t come cheap the closer you get to campus, but they are still much cheaper than similar pedestrian areas in larger cities.

Living in a small college town means we never sit in traffic, are near a range of outdoor amenities, and can enjoy a variety of activities on campus. We continually attend college sporting events, shows and conferences. We might not go to pro hockey games or big name concerts, but the sports and music are both high quality and inexpensive.

Plus, living in a small college town means you spend time with a lot of young people (the students) – and with the brilliant people who work in the college.

College life in a small town has other charms, like watching your colleagues’ children grow up in the same schools you send to your children. And meet your colleagues in the produce aisle of the supermarket.

Those who build an academic career in small rural college towns will struggle to stay put. Building an academic career in a rural area can be a challenge. There are often only one or two schools to teach and work. Lagging partners are a big challenge in places where there is only one university employer.

The financial situation of many rural schools is also difficult. The aging population of the Northeast and Midwest, home to many small college towns, has made it difficult for schools to recruit enough students. The disease of higher education costs and an increasingly competitive student recruitment market are also making life difficult for schools in rural areas.

Still, if you can, living and working in a small, rural college town is hard to beat. We should promote the virtues of small college towns to retirees and young families, as well as potential students.

Colleges and universities are among the most important economic assets of rural areas. The health of these schools is closely linked to the prospects of the regions in which they are located. We should celebrate the benefits of living in a small college town at every opportunity.

Do you live and work in a university town located in a rural area?

What brought you to your establishment?

What makes you stay?

About Keneth T. Graves

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